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Innovate communities

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What is the purpose of your Lab/Collective? Your shared longer-term goal?
Right now, we are working to enable, and advocate for, the wider use of place or community based innovation in Ireland. For us, this means a way of interaction that brings communities together, empowers them to identify their own needs and priorities, and their own responses to those needs so as to improve their daily lives and prospects. We are aware that many of these local issues are connected to the major social challenges of our time, economic inequality, environmental damage and the related stress on people’s mental and spiritual well-being. In the longer term our hope is that the diversity of responses to how these challenges manifest at local level will lead to a more creative and systemic reaction at national and transnational levels.
What challenges are you addressing in your Lab/Collective?
In trying to enable community based innovation we face the following challenges. 1. The centralisation of power and decision making away from communities in recent decades creating a culture of reliance on local or national government to address community problems. 2. The fragmentation of voluntary and public sector activity resulting in overlap of effort and weak collective impact in dealing with these issues. 3. An acute level of social difficulties in the areas we operate in, with consequent effects on community morale. 4. The limited capacity of community or local leaders to create the conditions in which innovative activity can take place.
Do you have a Lab/Collective core group?
We are a full time team of six people and two part-time governed by a Board comprising community leaders, local business and public representatives and officials from local government. Our full time staff have expertise in mentoring, coaching and group facilitation techniques drawn from a range of fields including human centred design thinking, Theory U, Gestalt theory and complexity theory. Their work has focussed on community development, spatial transformation , supporting new social enterprises and leadership development.
How do you enact your Lab/Collective’s processes?
Our basic approach is to create social innovation hubs in communities, intended to serve as a physical and virtual space, a container, in which local social innovation can be initiated and supported to scale. Within our existing hub we have created prototypes and programmes that have been co-designed with the end users within our hub, and have focused on a) supporting vulnerable youth to enable them to take the next step forward in their journey towards further education or employment and b) supporting local start-up enterprise or community initiatives. Our approach to developing these 1. Diagnose & Frame: Using design thinking, we mobilise interested residents, local government, elected officials, businesses and non-profits through research, bespoke meetings and round table events, which give us valuable insights into people’s lives. 2. Discover: Once we agree the themes to focus on, we get together with communities and people interested in supporting the work, to shape achievable, effective solutions to the problem at hand. 3. Prototype & Test: We then work to co-design/create a product or service with the group in question. By prototyping at this stage we find out what does and doesn’t work and what improvements need to be made. Acting as the broker, we engage those people and organisations that can help make the product or service a reality. We call these our Critical Friends. 4. Implement: Once our prototype fits the market or community it was designed for, then we look to implement. We are currently refining and extending the concept of a social innovation hub for the Liberties area Dublin 8 using the ulab 2x programme as a template, using methodologies such as structured stakeholder interviews and 3 and 4D mapping – enabling us to launch new methodologies to advance placed based community innovation in Ireland.
How do you collect the new generated knowledge?
This is an area we require support in terms of creating a centralised system to monitor outcomes and impact, and would welcome a conversation with you on this to advance thinking and structure.
Do you have a group of people who practice and develop knowledge together?
Presently we are part of the MIT ulab project which serves in part as a community of practice. We are also members of Tamarack the Canadian based institute on community innovation. Hopefully, our involvement in any Citizen Lab network would bring this activity closer to home.